Editor’s note: This information was accurate at the time of recording, February 10, 2020. We are monitoring and updating as new information is available.
The coronavirus pandemic engenders uncertainty, panic and the fear of disrupting the most perfectly planned meeting, event or business travel itinerary.
For companies with a vigilant event risk management strategy, there is certainty in having a vulnerability assessment for global health emergencies and a duty of care checklist to ensure that the planning team takes all prudent and reasonable steps to keep attendees as safe as possible from exposure to the virus while participating in your program.
On February 2, the U.S. began implementing travel restrictions that include the following:
- The temporary denial of entry by foreign nationals who visited China in the 14 days prior to their arrival in the U.S.
- U.S. citizens who have been in China’s Hubei province in the two weeks prior to their return to the U.S. will be subject to a mandatory quarantine of up to 14 days.
- U.S. citizens returning from other parts of mainland China in the 14 days prior to their arrival will face health screenings at ports of entry and subject to up to 14 days of self-monitored quarantine.
[Related: Is Your Meeting or Event Prepared for a Crisis?]
As with SARS and the Zika virus, it is impossible to predict how the coronavirus will affect international and U.S. meetings and events. Currently, it is unlikely that your upcoming events will be affected even as much as a flu outbreak in your chosen destination.
However, there are four duty of care steps a planner should follow to mitigate any impact of the virus on their event: research, inform, recommend and plan.
Key actions for the meetings and events planning team for coronavirus include:
1. Determine if your event is in a red zone of coronavirus cases
Continue to monitor your event location via resources offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) and the U.S. State Department. For U.S. locations with any known cases or exposure, include the city and county department of public health and local medical services up to the start date of the event.
2. Assess the demographics of your participants
To identify risk of exposure from international attendees or attendees who have traveled internationally in the previous four weeks, determine where they have traveled to or originated from.
3. Engage your hotel, convention center and venues
Conduct a pre-event safety discussion that includes understanding their emergency procedures to handle a health emergency during an event. Find any statistics regarding past airborne illnesses in the location. Investigate the current state of preparation for coronavirus with all your event first responders.
4. Review all contracts for the force majeure clause and any event cancellation insurance
Examine your contracts and insurance to determine if the “threat of a pandemic” and communicable disease are covered regarding a reason for termination or reduction of your event attendance and attrition. Explore options to change dates or move the location.
[Related: Risk Management Best Practices: 10 Easy Tips for Meeting and Event Planners]
5. Confer with your organization’s travel management team
Communicating with your organization’s travel management team will allow you to integrate travel safety bulletins with the event safety protocol.
6. Inform your key decision makers
Organizational stakeholders need to be acutely aware of the risk level and possible financial implications.
(Photo: Brenda Rivers, Andavo Meetings/SAFE)
7. Recommend best alternatives
Factors to consider include managing perception and concern for the hotels and suppliers impacted when weighing alternatives to the various aspects of the meeting or event.
8. Include a risk management policy statement
This statement must include the considerations of protecting the health of all attendees, including those who have not been vaccinated, have a compromised immune system or who might be feeling sick when they arrive at the event.
9. Advise your attendees early and often
Communication of your company’s awareness of the potential for coronavirus exposure should be frequent and based on current public health reports and the commitment to a healthy and hygienic event environment. This could be communicated via the event website, attendee email blasts and mobile app, among other communication channels.
[Related: Duty of Care Simplified: Meeting Planner's Guide]
10. Publish “Stay Healthy—Know Before You Go” Tips
Attendees need to be alerted in your event registration process to information that includes “How to prevent the spread of coronavirus” and “What to do to avoid exposure to coronavirus while traveling to and from your event.” Also include frequently updated health tips in the event mobile app during the event.
11. Have pre-event discussions on how you will handle an attendee who appears to be sick during the event
Do not leave this to a last-minute reaction by the planning team. While you might not have a full coronavirus epidemic during the event, you might have an attendee who exhibits symptoms of a cold or flu that will not be easily identified as coronavirus until it is too late to separate them from the group.
12. Develop an onsite crisis response plan to handle an outbreak of any illness during the event
Model this crisis response plan after your plan for mitigating a foodborne illness. Include a dedicated response team, know your medical contacts and procedures, and expand your crisis communication plan to include a “panic-driven attack of the flu.” Include social media channels and rehearsed messaging to keep attendees informed and calm, and the event moving.
13. Document all of the above in your risk management playbook
By now, you should have, or be working on, a risk management playbook for your organization. Include all of this in that plan. If you haven’t started developing a plan, the coronavirus outbreak serves as yet one more reminder that such plans are necessary for the health of your attendees. Such plans can also eliminate severe financial risks to your organization due to legal liability and negative public perceptions when the unthinkable happens and you are unprepared to react in a logical, predetermined fashion.
Remember that the meeting planner is not the guarantor of the safety of the attendees, but duty of care does mean that the planner must investigate the risk of coronavirus, advise the attendees of the current state of coronavirus in the location, and provide all the best hygiene and health oversight practices possible at your event.
Brenda Rivers is the author of The Meeting & Event Risk Management Guide, published by Meetings Today.
Read next: What to Do if You Get Sick While Traveling